Thursday, October 3, 2013

The History of Gardening in the British Isles

Monastery Cloister Abbey Ruin with Garden: 

“In common with English and European Gardens of the period, medieval Scottish gardens were primarily practical; extensions of agriculture, with the aim of providing special additions to the table and curatives for the sick. However, the concept of the garden as a benefit to the spirit rose with the power of the Church, and the nobility began to add gardens of contemplation to existing kitchen and physic gardens wherever possible, as an aid to saving their souls.
Of course, in Scotland, most noble houses of the period were fortified, if not fortresses, so such gardens were often created simply from a small field away from the main dwelling, given over to wild flowers and bee hives, where it was possible to have some privacy from the bustle of everyday life.”
Medieval Gardens

“Monasteries and manor houses dictated the garden style of the medieval period. Monastic gardens provided medicine and food for the monks and the local community. Herbs were cultivated in the ‘physic’ garden, composed of well-ordered rectangular beds, while orchards, dovecotes, and fish ponds, ensured there would be food for all.”

The secluded garden, or  ‘Hortus Conclusus’, was associated with the Virgin Mary in the monastery garden but in royal palaces and manor houses it represented a garden of earthly delights. Enclosed within wattle fences, raised beds were filled with scented flowers and herbs. Trellis arbors ensured privacy and provided shade while the sound of fountains and bird song filled the air.”

 Image of a medieval garden:

 Physic Gardens (from a designer):

“The Medieval Monastic garden was an important place to be self-sufficient, enabling food, medicine and herbs for flavouring, healing & fragrance to be grown. Dye plants were used to colour fabric for clothes.”

From: Dreaming of the Medieval Physic Garden:

Physic gardens were kept by apothecaries and their apprentices, as well as by monasteries. Apothecaries were traders and dispensers of medicinal herbs, trained in identification and quality purchasing of herbs, to avoid adulteration, poisoning, and ineffective treatment. Physic gardens were established to train apprentices to recognize each herb and grow them for the production of medicines. As mentioned before, physic gardens were also established at monasteries. Each monastery had an infirmary where treatment was available with herbal medicines from plants cultivated in their physic gardens. Although herbalism was practiced and hospitals existed prior to the establishment of the churches.

In 1164CE The House Of The Holy Trinity At Soutra was founded in Scotland near Edinburgh by King Malcolm IV as an Augustinian hospital, monastery and church complete with physic gardens.”

Glasgow’s oldest house: Provand’s lordship

Provand's lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow. It is a medieval building built  in 1471 by Bishop Andrew Muirhead. The house is now a Museum and is near the Glasgow Cathedral.Behind the house is the St. Nicholas garden, built in 1997. It is a medical herb garden, containing medicinal plants in use in the fifteenth century, designed to reflect the original purpose of the house.

Early Gardens in Great Britain:

The earliest gardens known in Britain were built by the Roman Conquerors in the 1st century. The best known ones are associated with large villas and palaces. “The best example of the latter is probably Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex, where an early garden has been partly reconstructed. We know very little about the gardens of Anglo-Saxon England, which is another way of saying that the warlike Anglo-Saxons probably did not hold gardening to be important. It was not until the Middle Ages that gardens once more became important in British life. Monasteries had both kitchen gardens and herb gardens to provide the practicalities of food and medicine. [For a look at the role of herbs in monastic life, read one of the excellent Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters}.”

“The monastery cloister provided an open green space surrounded by covered walks, generally with a well, or fountain at the center. 

Castles sometimes made room for small courtyard gardens, with paths through raised flower beds. Other common features of medieval castle gardens include turf seats and high mounds, or mounts, which provided a view over the castle walls.”

Garden Styles at a glance:
  • Roman Britain: formal, low hedges
  • Medieval: small enclosed, with turf seats and mounds
  • Tudor: knot gardens, enclosed in hedges or walls
  • Stuart: formal Italianate and French styles
  • Georgian: informal, landscaped, open parkland
  • Victorian: bedding plants, colourful, public gardens
  • 20th Century+: mixed styles, herbaceous borders
For more of the evolution of gardens in Britain, visit the above link.

From Captivating Cottage Gardens at:

I love cottage gardens best of all and endeavor to have my own. However, there are drawbacks. I live in a boxy white farm house, not a cottage, and our yard and gardens are rather sprawling for that overflowing, filled to the brim, in a compact sort of way look. Like mine, these small gardens are (and were) a mix of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. I strongly associate cottage gardens with the British Isles, because of our shared history and the influence of the Mother Country on the New World. But other countries have them too.

In this fabulous post, the gardening specialist says: “The origins of the cottage garden go back hundreds of years to a time when most people grew a significant amount of their own food and made a great deal of their own household products—from soaps and dyes to medicines—mostly from plants. Cottage gardens are named for the country cottages around which they were found.”

People acquired the plants for their cottage gardens from friends and family in the form of ‘starts’ (root divisions) cuttings, and seeds. Very much as I do today, only I have the added benefit of seed catalogues. They are called passalong plants.

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